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Artistic History
Saga of Assyrians in Iran comes to life in works by Turlock artist

 

By LISA MILLEGAN
BEE ARTS WRITER
January 27, 2006

Hannibal Alkhas' mural on Assyrian history in Iran over the past century covers subjects of both broad and personal interest.

 The piece, now on view in digital print form at the Modesto Junior College Art Gallery, includes scenes of missionaries dividing up Assyrian Christians between Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, and Assyrians being massacred and exiled by Turks in 1918. It also includes depictions of the artist and his family members.

About 2 feet in height and 15 feet long, the mural print (the original, which is five times larger, is in Iran) is the largest of 64 works by Alkhas, his wife, Anna Gabriel, and other Iranian artists in the exhibition "Hannibal Alkhas and the Party." All the pieces are for sale with prices ranging from $100 to $4,000.

 At MJC, Hannibal Alkhas stands in front of a large digital print of his mural about Assyrians of Iran in the 20th century.
ADRIAN MENDOZA/THE BEE

Alkhas, who moved to Turlock a year ago from the Bay Area, has exhibited extensively around Iran and throughout the world and taught at Tehran University as well as UCLA, the University of California at Berkeley and other colleges around the United States. He also is an art critic and poet.

 "It is an immense honor for us to have an artist of his caliber and his knowledge," said gallery director Haleh Niazmand, who grew up in Iran.

Alkhas is so popular among Iranian immigrants, both Assyrian and otherwise, that some are coming from as far away as Southern California to attend his reception Saturday, she said.

Among other Alkhas works at the MJC exhibition are several paintings touching on a wide variety of subjects, from animals and birds to Jesus and Assyrian mythological figures.

A few of the paintings were inspired by ancient ziggurats (temple towers).

"I imagined that I traveled through the tunnel of time and I went back to the early days of Assyrians and they commissioned me to do murals for ziggurats," the 75-year-old artist said during a recent interview at the gallery. "And then because I knew what was going to happen, I painted the history of art on the walls of the ziggurats."

 Born in Kermanshah, Iran, Alkhas grew up in a cultured family that appreciated the arts. His father Rabi Adai Alkhas was a writer who knew 14 languages and published a literary magazine. His uncle John Alkhas is considered one of the best Assyrian poets of the 20th century.

Hannibal Alkhas came to the United States in 1951 to study philosophy at Chicago's Loyola University and later earned bachelor's and master's degrees in fine arts from the Art Institute of Chicago.

He married and had three children, now grown, and has since spent most of his time in the United States, occasionally returning to live and work in Iran.

As part of the MJC exhibition, he is taking abstract paintings created by art students and other gallery visitors and turning them into figurative works with people, animals and landscapes.

 

Alkhas said he likes to work on his own art that way because he believes that's the way human thought works.

"We start from abstract and give abstract form and meaning and reasoning."

He usually begins with abstract shapes of different colors, then paints in figures that tell a story. He gets his inspiration from feelings and concepts he associates with colors. Red, for example, makes him think of love, politics or anger, depending on his mood. Yellow, in turn can evoke thoughts of the sun, gold or greed.

Alkhas also tries to paint from a childlike place so that he will be more free and creative in his work. He said he hopes his methods will inspire gallery visitors in their own artistic ventures.

"I don't believe in talent," he said. "Nietzsche said every person has a superman inside him. You have to find your superman."

"Hannibal Alkhas and the Party" runs through Feb. 17 in the Modesto Junior College Art Gallery. Alkhas will give a gallery talk in Assyrian, Farsi and English and make paintings with gallery visitors Saturday between 2 and 6 p.m. A second reception, which will include a reading of poems by 14th-century Iranian mystic Hafez, is set for Feb. 4 from 2 to 6 p.m. 575-6819.

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